SHEFFIELD Wednesday extended their unbeaten away run to six games by taking a deserved point from St Andrew’s last night.
Both teams battled all the way: the Owls to make it four wins and two draws in this impressive sequence, Birmingham to regain some pride after their 4-0 hammering by Watford last Saturday.
There were a few near misses at each end in a largely unexceptional contest yet one that also contained another display of effort, spirit and organisation from the Owls.
Anthony Gardner’s absence with a thigh strain was the one surprise in the Wednesday team and it gave Martin Taylor a start against his old club.
It was the deputy captain’s first League appearance since the 3-2 home defeat by Bristol City on December 8.
Connor Wickham’s full debut came at the expense of Kieran Lee, with Michail Antonio switching to the right flank.
Blues boss Lee Clark made five changes to the side that began last Saturday’s 4-0 thrashing by Watford.
They included a return for Marlon King after injury and a place for Nikola Zigic after he was axed for poor training.
King was presented with the first chance, in the seventh minute.
Wednesday were caught out by a ball down the middle; the striker was free to volley from long range as Chris Kirkland began to advance, then changed his mind, and caught King’s lob comfortably.
Five minutes later home keeper Jack Buckland made a terrific stop on his line from a powerful header by Miguel Llera after Danny Pugh delivered a typical right-side corner.
The teams were fairly evenly matched in the first 20 minutes, moving the ball well, looking to get forward quickly at every opportunity, and defending soundly around their penalty areas.
Perhaps both managers would have agreed that a bit more precision in the attacking third of the pitch was the missing ingredient.
Birmingham were also prevented from getting any telling service to the giant Zigic - except for a 30th minute freekick from which he was left in some space in the box but missed making contact with his head.
There was some nifty work for the Owls by Jeremy Helan, Antonio, Leroy Lita and Giles Coke - and Wickham produced a glimpse of his quality when he beat defenders in a promising run, only to drive over the top from 20 yards.
When Zigic did get on the end of a high cross to the far post, Llera blocked the shot that resulted from the knockdown. Soon after that, the Owls centre half ended a threat by making a firm block tackle on Zigic in the box.
After that largely unexciting first half, Wednesday sought to liven things in the opening minutes of the second half.
Forceful play by Wickham brought two corners; one of which lef to Antonio putting the ball back into the box and Taylor glancing a header across goal - a half chance.
Another attack broke down on a loose ball by Antonio; he gave chase as King bore down on goal, and the Wednesday winger did enough to halt the striker, with both slipping to the ground and home fans behind the goal screaming hopefully for a penalty.
Dave Jones took off Wickham and sent on Jermaine Johnson in the 67th minute. The teenager centre forward had worked hard and shown some promise but come up against some strong defending, from Curtis Davies in particular.
But immediately it was Birmingham stepping on the gas. They made the best chance so far, in the 68th minute: a low diagonal ball found Zigic umarked in front of goal and he put his shot wide.
A minute after that, a swift raid down the left by left back Mitch Hancox caused problems, and the move ended with Kirkland stopping a firm strike by King.
Johnson had taken up a central position just behind Lita, with Antonio staying on the right.
Zigic, policed by Taylor, could only divert a header wide after another high ball dropped into the box.
Gary Madine’s arrival, when he came for Lita, showed that Jones was not content just to protect a point.
Set pieces contributed towards the Owls applying some pressure.
An Antonio free kick in the 83rd minute so nearly brought a breakthrough; the ball from the left was whipped in towards the near post and seemed to be knocked wide by Madine.
Wednesday appealed fruitlessly for a penalty for challenge by Zigic on Llera. The Blues were back on the attack. It was anybody’s game, going into the last few minutes, and perhaps fittingly it finished as a stalemate.
* BLUES: Butland 7, Caddis 7, Caldwell 7, Davies 8, Hancox 7, Spector 6, Reilly 7, Burke 7, Elliott 7, King 6 (Lovenkrands 83), Zigic 6. Unused subs: Doyle, Ibanez, Mullins, Thomas, Redmond. Hall.
* OWLS: Kirkland 7, Buxton 7, Taylor 8, Llera 8, Pugh 7, Antonio 6, Coke 8 (McCabe 80), Prutton 7, Helan 6, Lita 7 (Madine 78), Wickham 6 (J Johnson 67, 7). Unused subs: Bywater, Semedo, Mattock, Lee.
* Bookings: Pugh, Antonio, Llera.
What do you think about the Owls’ display last night? Leave a comment below or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.